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Past Times

Why ‘devastated’ David Bowie couldn’t headline Perthshire festival T in the Park

David Bowie and Balado is the most famous T in the Park headline act that never was. reports.
Graeme Strachan
David Bowie performing on stage in 2003. Image: Shutterstock.
David Bowie performing on stage in 2003. Image: Shutterstock.

Bowie and Balado.

It is the most famous T in the Park headline act that never was.

The announcement 20 years ago, in November 2003, that music legend David Bowie would headline Scotland’s biggest music festival made front-page headlines.

No wonder.

If anyone was the master of shock and surprise, it was Bowie.

The singer, who shot to fame with Space Oddity in 1969, was the first act to be confirmed for the 2004 festival in Perthshire taking place on July 10 and 11.

Bowie told fans at his Glasgow SECC concert that he would be returning to Scotland following a 28-song set to promote Reality, which was his 24th studio album.

Anticipation was building for David Bowie’s T in the Park bow…

Courier music writer Roddy Isles summed up the excitement in his weekly column.

“If the Thin White Duke is still on the kind of form he displayed at the SECC on Friday, his set at Balado will join the long list of TITP highlights,” he wrote.

“With Reality, his best album in years under his belt, Bowie can now mix and match classics and new songs without too much disparity.

“And, of course, those classics are some of the best things ever written in pop or rock.

“In a euphorically received two-hour-plus set he fitted in much of Reality and piles of the favourites, including tremendous versions of Starman, Under Pressure, and a storming closing burst of Ziggy Stardust.

“Some Bowie veterans have been describing this show as the best he’s played in Scotland in years, and it wasn’t hard to see why they left so enthused.

“On the back of this anticipation is already building for Bowie at Balado.”

David Bowie performing on The Thin White Duke Tour in Los Angeles in 1976. Image: Shutterstock.
David Bowie performing on The Thin White Duke Tour in Los Angeles in 1976. Image: Shutterstock.

Festival organiser Geoff Ellis hailed the signing of Bowie as a major coup.

“It is testament to the world status of T in the Park that a music legend such as David Bowie is keen to sign up so early for the 2004 festival,” he said.

“Bringing David Bowie to T in the Park fulfils a personal achievement and I know that his performance will become a very special moment in the festival’s already rich history.

“He is a timeless artist who never stops innovating and reinventing himself and his influence will undoubtedly be seen on many of the other artists and bands who will accompany him at T in the Park next year.”

Bowie brought showmanship to Dundee in 1973

Bowie was no stranger to these parts.

In the 1960s he paid his dues in front of minute audiences in Dundee, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Perth who had still to be convinced he was the future of pop and rock.

Clearly, something big needed to happen to get him some serious attention.

The Moon Landings were just that thing, and although the original idea had been sparked by the Space Odyssey movie in 1968, Bowie’s tale of Ground Control failing to get Major Tom back from his mission was the big moment he’d dreamed of.

Then he pulled on his platform boots, applied his mascara, cajoled his reluctant band to dress up similarly, and launched Ziggy Stardust.

David Bowie performing at the Caird Hall in Dundee in 1973. Image: Retro Dundee.
David Bowie performing at the Caird Hall in Dundee in 1973. Image: Retro Dundee.

So it was showmanship at its grandest when Bowie returned to Dundee on May 17 1973 and brought the Ziggy Stardust Tour to the Caird Hall at the peak of his powers.

Then, David Bowie would explore even stranger paths, and make a success of those.

Everything he touched, it seemed, turned to gold.

Including Balado.

Bowie would headline the Main Stage at T in the Park on Saturday night in 2004.

In order to compensate for the demand the capacity was increased from 55,000 people each day to 60,000 and still the tickets sold out quicker than ever before.

Bowie was still making history at the age of 57.

Joining him on the bill was The Pixies, The Strokes, The Darkness, Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters, The Libertines, Wu-Tang Clan and Amy Winehouse.

Singer had been playing through pain barrier

Bowie was performing in Prague in June 2004 on his 62-day tour of North America and Europe when he suffered a pain in his shoulder that stopped him halfway through.

There was no indication the injury was more serious than a pinched nerve and he returned to the stage at Germany’s Hurricane Festival despite being in unbearable pain.

Bowie’s rendition of Heroes closed the set before he collapsed after leaving the stage and was taken to hospital by helicopter and underwent surgery for a blocked artery.

The rest of the tour was cancelled.

T in the Park boss Geoff Ellis was reeling at the news.

He said: “Personally, I was really looking forward to seeing him.

“I’ve been speaking to his camp over the last couple of days and everyone had been hopeful that things would be fine for T in the Park.

“But it is more of a problem than first anticipated.

David Bowie was the one who got away.”

Geoff Ellis

“I’m disappointed he has pulled out, but everyone knows he doesn’t cancel shows.

“He’s a hardened cookie.

“If Bowie says he can’t do a gig, you know it’s serious.

“He is devastated about having to cancel.

“He had been hopeful he would be able to do T in the Park.”

Bowie performing at Live Aid in 1985. Image: PA.
Bowie performing at Live Aid in 1985. Image: PA.

Bowie bowed out of the music business to recover.

Justin Hawkins and The Darkness were bumped to Main Stage headliners.

There were no blanket refunds for Bowie fans who had bought T in the Park tickets solely to see their idol.

Ouch.

Bowie’s final performance would come in 2006 alongside Alicia Keys at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom at the Black Ball fundraiser where he performed Changes.

He was still very much musically active.

David Bowie sings into the microphone on stage
David Bowie was the one that got away for T in the Park boss Geoff Ellis. Image: DC Thomson.

Ellis said if he could wave a magic wand, David Bowie would be first on his list and he attempted to get the singer to headline T in the Park every year from 2004.

“It feels like we’ve unfinished business,” he said.

“David Bowie was the one who got away.

“I’d love to have him and he’d be welcome to come to T at any time.”

David Bowie wowed us until the end

Bowie released a brand-new album called The Next Day on his 66th birthday in 2013.

He had sworn the studio staff and everyone else to secrecy, and music business insiders reckon nobody else has ever pulled off something like it — and probably never will.

Even better, though, the single Where Are We Now, and the album The Next Day, were both right up there with the best things he had ever done.

While battling against cancer for 18 months, Bowie managed to record a last album, and Blackstar was another fantastic addition to a wonderful catalogue of music.

Even the way he left us was typical of Bowie, his death on January 10 2016 coming completely out of the blue to everyone except his closest family and friends.

His death would be the first of a seemingly endless roll-call of musicians who died in 2016 including Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and George Michael.

Musicians during the Rogue Orchestra Bowie tribute performance. Image: DC Thomson.
Musicians during the Rogue Orchestra David Bowie tribute performance. Image: DC Thomson.

That summer’s T in the Park would feature a homage to Bowie and Prince when the Rogue Orchestra joined the festival’s line-up to open the main stage on Sunday.

Members of the orchestra performed with faces painted like Ziggy Stardust.

It was a heartbreaking, final gift to his Scottish fans, who were grateful for it — and for the never-to-be-forgotten joy of David Bowie and his incredible music.

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